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Primary Victors Advance in California Contests for Schools Chief, Governor

The state's role in education, the expansion of charter schools, and school funding weighed heavily on voters' minds Tuesday night in California's closely watched primary contests for state school superintendent and governor, which advanced the top two vote-getters in each race to the general election this fall.  

In the statewide race for schools superintendent, Los Angeles district's schools improvement director Marshall Tuck landed three points ahead of Tony Thurmond, a social worker and state legislator.

Thurmond has pushed for more school spending and heavier oversight of the state's charter sector. Marshall Tuck who has advocated for school choice as an answer to the state's academic challenges, has been provided $6.5 million from charter advocates. Both candidates are Democrats, though the state superintendent's position is nonpartisan. 

In the contest for governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who received the endorsement of the California Teachers Association, will face off in the general election against John Cox, a Republican who got the second-most votes and is running on a campaign to cut the state's income taxes. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa failed to make the cut. Villaraigosa started his career as a teacher-union organizer, but after becoming mayor backed test score-based teacher evaluations and charter schools, infuriating teachers. 

The primaries were a magnet for campaign spending and muscle for various advocacy groups. In the superintendent's race, for example, the California Teachers Association provided volunteers and spent more than $3 million to back Thurmond, who has pushed for more school spending and heavier oversight of the state's charter sector. Tuck, who has advocated for school choice as an answer to the state's academic challenges, so far has been provided $6.5 million from charter advocates.

California's schools have undergone dramatic change under Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's eight-year tenure. After the end of the recession, Gov. Brown and the state's legislature added more than $25 billion into the state's school system, replaced its complicated funding formula in 2011, and propped up districts' ability to spend money as they'd like. The state in 2016 also began the arduous process of pairing the state's accountability system with its funding formula, a task made more complicated with the passing of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Hurdles remain for the state's school sysem. The state's Latino and black students, those who make up the majority of California's student population, still lag behind the state's white students on test scores, and the state's teachers have long complained of a teacher shortage across the state. State education board Chairman Mike Kirst will step down at the end of Gov. Brown's tenure, which raises the stakes for this year's election. 

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